Nestled in a tranquil town made up of old-fashioned diners and 1950s-style street lamps stands Frozen Specialties Inc., a producer of private label pizzas and pizza bites.

Aside from the few pedestrians casually strolling up and down the brick-paved streets on a brisk March morning, there wasn’t much outdoor activity in Archbold, Ohio. It was as if time stood still, in more ways than one.

However it was anything but quiet inside Frozen Specialties’ 150,000-square-foot facility. Behind closed doors, nearly 190 employees hustled and bustled about the two-story plant to stay on schedule and to meet yet-another deadline for delivery of frozen pizza and pizza bites.

“We are pretty much a make-to-order company today,” says President and CEO Ricardo “Ric” Alvarez. “We receive packaging and many of our ingredients just in time, and we manufacture to the orders that we receive from our customers.”

As a private label manufacturer, this Holland, Ohio-based company needs to be just in time to stay abreast of and react to today’s constantly changing trends. In fact, the operation cranks out more than 450 SKUs – primarily for the private label accounts, as well as its own Mr. P’s and Fox de Luxe brands.

Recipes for success
Frozen Specialties’ Archbold plant has three pizza lines and one snack line. The plant’s first floor production area houses two steel bins that each hold more than 100,000 pounds of flour for the plant. Flour destined for pizza bite production is stored in two collapsible bins, which hold nearly 25,000 pounds each.

Once flour is mixed into pizza dough, Frozen Specialties will sheet and cut it into various sizes (5 inches to 11 inches in diameter) and shapes (traditional round to rectangular). The pizza lines even can produce non-traditional pizza crust shapes, such as the outline of Mickey Mouse (for work with Walt Disney products).

Pizza dough crusts enter an impingement oven with six baking chambers. There, they’ll bake for less than two minutes at 400°F to 600°F. Afterward, baked crusts travel to one of three pizza topping lines, where pizza sauce is applied by a waterfall system.

Frozen Specialties will shred blocks of cheese – including real mozzarella, real cheddar and Monterey Jack – before it is sprinkled on top of the sauce. Other toppings, such as real pepperoni or ham, also are applied at this time.

Topped pizzas then enter one of three spiral freezers. Inside, they’ll travel at a cool -20°F for about 22 minutes. Afterward, they’ll travel on to an automated packaging area.
After packaging and casepacking, both pizzas and pizza bites are taken to Frozen Specialties’ 55,000-square-foot freezer, which is maintained at -10ºF and holds up to 320,000 cases or 4,800 pallet positions of product.

Ensuring quality
Behind the scenes, Frozen Specialties has its ingredients and packaging materials arrive on a just-in-time basis (keeping on-site inventories low). Meanwhile, the company also engages suppliers in a rigorous approval process, notes Alvarez.

“It’s all about uniformity,” he says. “That’s why we measure, measure, measure. Our customers entrust us with their products.”

To monitor quality and value, Frozen Specialties requires pre-sample verifications, continuous testing and measuring, certificates of analysis and ongoing quality tracking of shipments.

Interestingly, Frozen Specialties uses a radio frequency identification (RFID) bar coding system to organize everything from ingredient shipments to finished product inventories in a real-time format. For instance, every case has its own label (or “license plate”), which includes such information as the SKU number as well as data about where it came from, where it’s going, pallet number and measurement size.

FSI receives most orders electronically and it stores them (in real time) in a database connected to work stations on the plant floor. Frozen Specialties’ in-house system provides data entry points and monitoring graphs so that quality assurance personnel can enter – and monitor – proper weights, sizes and other variables.

All information – from ingredient handling to final product inventory – then is linked for quality control use, notes Brian Replogle, senior director of operations.

“Everything in this facility is intertwined and put into our IT system, and the information and the data are available to all departments and evaluated daily to make sure that we stay as efficient as we say we are,” he says. “That’s one of our top priorities.”

Because Frozen Specialties is a private label manufacturer, many of its customers bring their own auditing teams. However, the facility recently received a superior rating through American Institute of Baking and underwent an intensive four-week U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety evaluation. Additionally, the operation is in the approval process for the new Global Food Safety Initiative. The company expects that process to be completed by the end of the year.

Editor’s note: This article excerpted from the May 2009 issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, a sister publication to Refrigerated & Frozen Foods.